A locomotive engineer lost his railroad career after rendering over 30 years of service to his Railroad Company. On the day of the accident, the engineer’s locomotive engine and train collided with a tractor-trailer, which had become hung-up/high-centered on the Bellevue Road “humped” railroad grade crossing in Waskom, Texas, located just across the border from Shreveport, Louisiana.
In determining the engineer’s Railroad Company’s liability in FELA crossing collision cases such as this, the pivotal point for any FELA Plaintiff is to satisfy the foreseeability requirement. We were required to show that the engineer’s Railroad Company knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known that the railroad grade crossing at Bellevue Road was a defective and dangerous workplace.
Here, one critical event and another crucial omission on the part of the Railroad Company provided clear proof that the Railroad not only should have known, but indeed actually did know, that the Bellevue Road crossing constituted an unreasonably safe workplace, and therefore posed a danger to its locomotive engineer.
First, only a year and a half before the collision in question, the Railroad Company’s Response Management Communication Center, at 3:30 p.m., received a critical incident report that a semi-tractor trailer was “high-centered” at the same Bellevue Road crossing in Waskom, Texas. The semi-trailer was removed from the railroad crossing at exactly 3:50 p.m. This prior incident, which was indistinguishable from this case showed that the Railroad Company possessed actual knowledge that its Bellevue Road railroad crossing was unreasonably steep and therefore unsafe for low ground clearance vehicles.
Second, pursuant to federal regulations, Railroad Company track inspectors were required to conduct twice-weekly track inspections at the Bellevue Road crossing. In fact, Railroad Company employees made two separate track inspections the week of the collision at the Bellevue Road crossing and did not report any conditions that could affect the safe passage of Railroad Company trains. However, photographic evidence from the scene of the accident revealed the presence of pre-existing gouge and scrape marks within the Railroad Company’s right-of-way at the Bellevue Road crossing. These pre-existing markings should have notified a properly alert and attentive Railroad Company track inspector, who visually inspected this crossing the week of the collision, that low ground clearance vehicles were dragging and/or hanging up at the Bellevue Road Crossing.
From the beginning of the litigation, the Railroad Company wrongly argued that the gouge marks and scrape marks in the right-of-way did not automatically “equal to” evidence that low ground clearance vehicles were being hung-up/high-centered at the Bellevue Road crossing. However, their argument was destroyed when the Railroad Company was forced to disclose the Critical Incident Report showing that a previous hang-up had occurred at that exact crossing. In other words, had the Railroad Company spread the word that this crossing had been the site of a low ground clearance hang-up, Railroad Company track inspectors would have presumably paid more attention to scrape marks and gouge marks in the railroad’s right-of-way. However, all deposed Railroad Company track inspectors testified that they never had any knowledge of any prior hang-ups or accidents at the Bellevue Road Crossing.
Furthermore, the geometry of this railroad crossing, taking into consideration the sloped asphalt approaches within the railroad’s right-of-way, deviated from well-recognized engineering benchmarks and guidelines outlined in the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association Engineering Handbook [“AREMA”]. Measured 30 feet from the nearest rail, AREMA standards state that the surface be not more than 3 inches higher nor 6 inches lower than the top of the rail.
However, at the Bellevue Road grade crossing in question, at a distance 30 feet east of the rail, the roadway surface elevation was 2.7 feet to 2.9 feet below the elevation of the rail. On the west side of the tracks, at a distance of 30 feet from the nearest rail, the roadway surface elevation was 1.5 feet below the elevation of the rail. Clearly, the Bellevue Road crossing fell well outside the suggested benchmarks articulated in the AREMA standards, which are well-accepted industry wide.
Leading up to trial, our firm was able to show the glaring absence of any precautionary measures taken by the Railroad Company after it obtained actual knowledge by virtue of the prior hang-up that the Bellevue Road crossing was dangerously steep. The Railroad Company did not notify Harrison County transportation officials. The Railroad Company did not enter into a joint effort with local entities to have the county place signage at the crossing to warn drivers of low ground clearance vehicles of the danger posed by the steepness of the Bellevue Road crossing. The Railroad Company did not make any note of the prior hang-up on any Track Bulletins active on the date of the accident, which would have alerted the locomotive engineer that the Bellevue Road crossing had been the location of a prior hang up just a year and a half before his collision. The Railroad Company did nothing in response to the prior hang-up at this crossing, and that fact was undisputed.
Following this collision, the locomotive engineer sought immediate treatment for right knee pain. After pursuing a plan of conservative treatment for a right medial meniscus tear, including pain injections, the locomotive engineer underwent a right knee arthroscopy.
Two days before trial, our firm successfully negotiated a settlement with Railroad Company in the amount of $325,000.00.